Washington State Flower - Coast Rhododendron

Coast rhododendron, the Washington state flower, is a showy flowering shrub that dazzles in late spring and early summer. The perennial plant grows primarily in the moist environments of the Pacific Northwest and northern California. The coast rhododendron became Washington's official state flower in 1959, but thanks to the women of the state, it was the unofficial state flower long before that.


The coast rhododendron (Rhododendron macrophyllum) is an evergreen shrub with deep green leaves and large flower clusters in shades of pink to darker purple. The plant generally grows from 5 to 25 feet, though heights of up to 36 feet can be found. In open areas, the coast rhododendron tends to be bushy and reach smaller heights. In woody environments, it grows into a taller, more leggy, tree-like plant. The flowers are tubular and typically bloom in late spring and summer.


The Washington state Legislature voted to make the coast rhododendron the official state flower in 1959. But it was the women of Washington who first chose it as the state flower more than 60 years earlier, in 1892. The women wanted to enter a flower in an exhibit at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, so they held a vote of their own. After considering other varieties, they narrowed the choices to the clover and the coast rhododendron. Women didn't yet have the right to vote in political elections, but they visited voting booths throughout the state to cast a ballot for their favorite flower. The rhododendron won and was considered the unofficial state flower until the Legislature acted 66 years later.

How to Grow

The coast rhododendron grows easily from seed or seedlings, which are typically available in nurseries, especially in the Northwest and California. To grow from seed, combine untreated seeds with sphagnum moss, and sprinkle over a mixture of 2 parts perlite to 1 part peat. Keep the seeds in a cool place, one with temperatures between 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Plant seedlings or fully grown shrubs in a shady or partly shady spot in well-drained soil, keeping the soil moist.


Coast rhododendron is also known as Pacific rhododendron, California rhododendron, California rosebay and red rhododendron. While it is the state flower of Washington, the coast rhododendron puts on the most abundant show in Oregon. If you have children or pets, do not let them eat any part of the rhododendron. All parts of the plant can be poisonous, including the flowers. Symptoms of poisoning include salivating, watery eyes and nose, stomach ache, difficulty breathing and vomiting.

References & Resources


OrderFlowers 2011 © All rights reserved.